Carrying Water on Long Runs – the Biggest Mistake and the Best Way

If you’re running long enough that you need to carry water, chances are you’re investing a lot of time into training for a substantial goal. But the simple act of carrying water can undermine your ability to avoid injury so you can actually attain that goal.

Anything that you hold or carry on your body will change your gait, and carrying water is probably the most common culprit. So here’s the key to doing it right.

Do It Symmetrically

Handheld water bottles are pretty popular because they’re simple and inexpensive and it’s really easy to take a drink. But adding weight to one side of your body imbalances your whole body, moving your weight onto the opposite leg and keeping it there. This can cause injuries, especially plantar fascia problems and IT band syndrome.

Furthermore, not only have you added weight to only one side of your body, you’ve also added it at the end of a pendulum–your arm–where it will have the biggest effect. And it’s sloshing in the bottle, creating a force that even further works your arm, shoulder and back muscles on that side, increasing the asymmetry of your gait and stressing the opposite leg even further.

Sometimes people opt for switching the bottle from one hand to the other every km or so, which is an option, but you’re still going to be working harder with one side of your body or the other for the whole run, which robs you of energy you could be putting into simply covering ground.

So I recommend you do not use a handheld bottle.

Do It Close to the Center of Your Body

The center of your body–your torso–will be least impacted by the addition of a bit of weight. So a hydration belt, with several bottles you can arrange around your waist, is a good option. But a hydration pack–a backpack-style water bladder with a tube you drink from–is an even better one because adding weight a little bit higher up can help you run a little bit faster.

Keep Your Arm Swing and Core Action Normal

It’s critical that your belt or pack allows you to swing your arms exactly the same as you normally would, as well as allowing your pelvis and upper body to move normally in what I call the core action. So you may have to try a few different options in a running store to find one that suits you.

These three simple criteria will definitely help your performance on long runs, allow you to hydrate, and keep your gait balanced. For a bit more detail and demonstration, here’s my YouTube video on the topic:

Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Carrying Water on Long Runs – the Biggest Mistake and the Best Way”

  1. I wear a cycling jersey with the 3 rear pockets. Perfect for 2 water bottles and an iPhone for music.

    In hot weather, I fill about half the bottle and the freeze the water. This lasts longer that ice cubes.

    Reply
  2. I do like the smallest bottle possible on a belt around the waist. The backpack type have always been difficult for me to clean which can lead to mold and other problems. I do need to have a full 6-8 oz bottle on just about every run. It helps me stay hydrated more naturally than drinking a lot before and after the run.

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  3. Hi Jae,

    As you know, the heat (and humidity!) is pretty fierce here on the northern Mediterranean coast of Spain.

    So like you, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to hydration over the past few years. For a couple of years, I was wearing a belt with a 500ml water bottle on the right side of my lower back. While that’s not as bad as wearing it on the side of my hip, it’s clearly not in line with your advice.

    So about six months ago, I switched to one of those vests you recommend – the type ultra runners wear.

    As for electrolytes, I used to think they were a bit of a fad designed to siphon money from our wallets. But even before moving from Scotland to Spain, I tried them out and discovered they have a dramatic positive influence on recovery quality and duration – especially after tough training sessions.

    Nowadays, I always use one tablet (in 500ml of water) after every run where I’m sweating freely in any temperatures above 25C, or even 20C once the humidity is over 70%.

    Reply
  4. Great post.

    I do wear my vest and hydra pack all the time in summer.

    For electrolytes.. 1/4 tsp of sodium citrate, 1/8 tsp of potassium citrate and 1/8tsp of magnesium citrate per 500ml. (Too much iodine in table salt to use this and citrate is better than the chlorine found in NaCl)

    Add 20g of maltodextrine to get some energy for longer runs. It gives you an hypotonic mix that is around 120mOsmol/L.
    (Do not use regular sugar because it won’t hydrate you, you need maltodextrine).

    Costs about nothing compared to electrolytes tablets. You can even add lemon crystals for taste.

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